This paper provides a description of the Food Security Research Project (FSP) implemented by SOS Sahel in Wollaita in the southern region of Ethiopia. According to even the most conservative estimates, over 45% of Ethiopians are chronically food insecure even in a normal year. To date, efforts to tackle this problem have depended heavily on annual emergency relief operations. The FSP was designed in the context of a new direction in disaster management in the country which stresses preparedness and prevention, and which explicitly attempts to link relief with development, the key mechanism for linkage being a major reduction in the free distribution of relief in contrast to the past and the introduction of Employment Generation Schemes (EGS). Under this approach, the bulk of relief was to be distributed only in return for participation in public works programmes using food-for-work and cash-for-work. The model is similar to that employed for famine relief implemented elsewhere: the emphasis is strong on community participation in all phases of programme design and implementation. To date around 10% of food aid has been distributed through food- for-work programmes in the country. The declared intention is to increase this over the next five years such that 80% of relief food aid will be distributed through employment programmes.

The short-term objective of the FSP was to provide an employment programme at the agricultural slack period thus offering poorer families access to additional income to improve their food status and to rehabilitate a critical infrastrucural asset, and so improve marketing opportunities for agricultural producers in Koisha. The primary concern for the FSP was to examine the feasibility of the new disaster management strategy in a specific context. The following key questions have informed the direction of the research which was carried out during implementation of the road programme.

  • Can employment programmes improve food security?
  • Can vulnerable households be targeted effectively and is the mechanism for targeting sustainable?
  • Can assets created through FFW and CFW provide sustainable long-term benefits?
  • What are the realistic costs of such programmes?
  • Can employment schemes provide a useful mechanism to link relief and development?

The following major issues emerge from the FSP experience:

  • To be effective as a mechanism for addressing chronic food insecurity, programmes need to be longer-term, and fully integrated into ongoing development activities.
  • Provided vulnerable households can be effectively targeted, guaranteed employment can make a significant contribution to food security.
  • With appropriate support and training, accountable community structures can take major responsibility for planning, labour recruitment and management of EGS.
  • A significant number of vulnerable households (15%), which cannot participate in EGS because they do not have the necessary labour, will need alternative forms of support even in a normal year.
  • Initially the costs of implementation are likely to be significantly higher than conventional relief unless cash payments and local purchase predominate.


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